Qatar Airways refused us a refund after visa mix-up to Botswana

My brother, his wife and young son were denied boarding when flying to Botswana for our mother’s funeral in December. Now Qatar Airways is refusing to refund the flight they missed, or the new one they booked to get to the service. My brother’s wife is a Philippines national and was eligible for a two-week visa issued on arrival in Botswana. They were travelling with all the documentation Botswana immigration officials had advised would be necessary.

Qatar Airways, however, had no knowledge of its system of issuing visas at port of entry, introduced in 2019. When check-in staff refused to accept the documents, my brother phoned the authorities at the destination airport in Maun and they emailed a stamped letter confirming the arrangements. They even offered to talk to Qatar staff, but this was refused. It was only after he obtained emailed letters from Botswana’s deputy director of immigration and the consul general that the airline agreed to let the family travel.

By this point, their original flight had departed, and they were directed to buy new tickets. To their horror, they discovered they had been marked as “no-shows” for the outbound flight, and so were not entitled to a refund, and their return tickets had been cancelled. They had to ask relatives to help fund the £3,037 for new tickets to Garborone airport, a day’s bus ride from Maun, and were assured they could claim on their return. Qatar Airways has, however, has flatly refused.
SCH, London

Airlines have, in recent years, been forced by legislation to become de facto border control agents, and can face punitive penalties if they carry passengers lacking the required documentation. Given this, you’d expect them to have ready access to the visa requirements of countries they fly to. Check-in staff appear to have been extraordinarily indifferent, leaving it to your brother to prove the Botswana visa process, then rejecting official confirmation.

Given that your sister-in-law was travelling on a Filipino passport, it’s possible to excuse the airline for insisting on extra checks; what’s unacceptable is its refusal to refund either the original fare or the substitute tickets once it was found they did have the correct paperwork. Qatar’s response misses the point. “We always ask customers to make sure their documents are in order before they fly as we are required to do by the authorities,” it says. “Unfortunately, in this case, we did not receive formal confirmation on visa status from immigration officials until after the flight had closed for boarding.”

In fact, the paperwork was in order and confirmation was provided before the flight departed. Qatar is still refusing a refund for the replacement tickets, but will reimburse the £2,226 your brother paid for the original flight.

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